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The Quest for Community

This week’s #el30 topic is community. This is my second post on the topic and I’d like to begin with a couple of definitions given in the interview/chat that Stephen Downes held with Pete Forsyth. Pete said:

  • Consensus: A collection of tactics for making decisions.
  • Community is a more amorphous concept of affiliation.
  • Connection is that if you are able to have consensus, it is one of the key things in being able to form community(1:22-1:50 in the video)

Stephen then said (casually, not ominously) that ‘the internet is a trustless environment’. When using trust as a formal definition, yes, I agree. In an interesting interview article with Bruce Schneier on trust, the first line reads:

Modern society depends on trust more than we realise, and the basis for that trust is security. 

So perhaps we could swap the words in Stephen’s sentence to read: The internet is an insecure environment. –Perhaps Stephen’s quest for ‘truth’ that we keep hearing him mention may align with a quest for secure, reliable, verifiable, trusted, and true information.

Back to the topic:

For the variety of people engaging with this course, there are problems inherent with multiple definitions, contexts, and uses for words. This happens whenever research, education, and/or practice cross domains. Actually it happens when we cross cultures too. –or generations, or perspectives on so many levels. For so many reasons, it really is important to have consensus if we are to function efficiently within a system or medium or even as a community.

I wrote my initial thoughts on the theme of community, and Stephen’s comment on that post demonstrated a different lens for using that word. Community can be a fostering home as I described, but it can also be a functioning ecosystem (that’s my best description of what he described).

This week we were given a challenge to propose a task that satisfied this brief:

As a community, create an assignment the completion of which denotes being a member of the community. For the purposes of this task, there can only be one community. For each participant, your being a member of the community completes the task.

My proposed ‘community’ task

is for consensus to be achieved on a criterial definition and understanding of community. Drawing upon Pete Forsyth’s initial comment on consensus, I agree we should have a collection of tactics to do this. I propose something akin to a mathematical proof .

This difference in definition led me to start by reading a few articles. I’ve copied a couple of paragraphs from the discussion section of one article that talked about a functioning ecosystem community. I’d like to leave it here as a provocation for us to think about. I have changed a few words, appearing below in purple, simply because it makes the overall text relevant to us, as opposed to being strictly oriented to the author’s study. In the second paragraph the word node is the author’s original text. After reading the paragraphs, please do click on the source article (I think you can see the full text).

In this study, we found that the position of the node… within the network … has important ecological consequences … and the structure and integration of the graph. Nodes with a higher flow of resources, even if this comes indirectly via other nodes, have an increased chance of surviving and founding new nodes than nodes with a lower flow of resources; node size is also accounted for and does not eliminate this effect. Distance to the nearest source does not affect node survival. Resource flow through a node depends on its connections to the other node and how it fits into the broader structure of the network. The survival and budding of a node is dependent on its relationship with other node and the wider pattern of interaction between the nodes in the graph. Our results show that, despite being spatially separated, the interconnected nodes of a graph can be considered a single ecological unit, at least in terms of resource acquisition. We also demonstrate that dynamic network position can have important ecological consequences.

The flow of resources through a particular node can change over time due to other nodes in the network being gained and lost. The integrated nature of the system means that a given nest could maintain the same connections to neighboring nodes and locations but still undergo a change in the amount of resources available to it (and therefore its chances of surviving…), due to nodes being abandoned or founded elsewhere in the graph. Nodes in unprofitable areas, and therefore with a low resource flow, are more likely to be abandoned than nodes in profitable areas. These dynamics will result in the graph moving toward resources and away from unprofitable areas. For a spatially embedded network, this movement is physical movement of nodes. In networks which are not spatially embedded, such as social networks, this process could result in a network clustering around certain nodes, for example individuals with information. The reverse could also occur; a network could cluster away from specific nodes, for example diseased individuals in a social network. These changes in the network structure are self‐organized, resulting from selective pressure based on an individual’s position in the network.

Source article

Further reading (easy read)

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Nico

Edited task:

In completing Roland’s task for this module, we are each asked to write about our experiences of #el30 so far. For each of us, this experience will be inherently true and specific to this community. In response to the brief set, we will be demonstrating consensus both by addressing one task, and by individually demonstrating our (true) experience of the course and of the community. This will be akin to a mathematical proof  that shows this experience of community is formally impossible to be something else.

The individual posts will each represent an aspect or facet of (what could be) a criterial definition and understanding of this community. Drawing upon Pete Forsyth’s initial comment on consensus, our posts would be the ‘collection of tactics’ to do this. 

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. jennymackness #

    Thanks for the updated task Laura.

    December 8, 2018
  2. I appreciate the weaving of both concepts together, even if I have to read it a few times (and will continue to do so). There’s a lot packed in there.

    I wrote my reflection before re-reading these posts — I am making my way backwards now — and I am thinking about a panel in my reflection comic where I explain how I might have considered abandoning the course – not due to Stephen or the material but due to life’s hectic elements itself — but I felt like the small Band of Us kept me engaged and committed to moving ahead to at least try each new task that came barreling our way.

    For me, in relation to our move to try to come up with a consensus on a definition, that shared virtual support system is a key element of this notion of a decentralized learning community. You can call it trust or not.

    The reality is: If it had not been there, I would not be here.

    Peace,
    Kevin

    December 8, 2018
  3. x28 #

    Do you think you could revise your task such that it is somehow integrated in Roland’s task? Then it would be easier to achieve a consensus about what to do.

    December 7, 2018
    • Laura #

      Yep! On it…is that better? I put it at the end of the post.

      December 7, 2018
      • x28 #

        Yes, thank you, and I agree.

        December 7, 2018
  4. This all connects to the way we have seen some tools used to show distributed networks and the nodes through visualization of connections. I’m not sure it is community but maybe. I agree with Jenny on the difficulty of defining community. I wonder if this is due to language and culture as much as our own experiences.
    I am still not sure where I need to proceed here. I’ll keep an eye on things.
    The fact that a handful of us have been spurred into action is kinda cool on its own.
    Kevin

    December 7, 2018
  5. jennymackness #

    Hi Laura,

    I definitely agree that community is difficult to define and means different things to different people, depending on the context.

    But I also agree with Matthias – https://x28newblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/el30-week-7-response-to-proposals/ – that it probably won’t be possible to come to a consensus about what community means. That’s what my experience (and past research) tells me, although I think a discussion about how we each think of it would be interesting and I would be happy to engage in that.

    So on that basis, thanks for jumping in and making a proposal, but I’m afraid it’s not for me.

    And, I have already agreed to Roland’s proposal, so I’m going to stick with that, unless there’s a huge sway against it, making it impossible to reach consensus.

    I’ll carry on thinking about the meaning of community. Thanks for the prompt.

    December 7, 2018
    • Laura #

      Hi Jenny,
      That’s ok! I took Matthias’ post was a contribution to defining this community. Your reply here is something! Thank you! -and in terms of the brief, replying at all (interacting or taking part) does go toward engaging as a community. I do think Rolland’s proposal is a good one -I will be oding that too- and in doing that, even unintentionally, we will be contributing to an understanding of this community. If the task is to do something as a community, although we are all individuals, we will be at least agreeing on being participants of #el30. I like the meta of the concepts. 🙂

      December 7, 2018
    • Laura #

      Hi Jenny,
      That’s ok! I took Matthias’ post was a contribution to defining this community. Your reply here is something! Thank you! -and in terms of the brief, replying at all (interacting or taking part) does go toward engaging as a community. I do think Rolland’s proposal is a good one -I will be doing that too- and in doing that, even unintentionally, we will be contributing to an understanding of this community. If the task is to do something as a community, although we are all individuals, we will be at least agreeing on being participants of #el30. I like the meta of the concepts. 🙂

      December 7, 2018

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